Since I was in Aruba conducting a photo shoot, I took a few days to do the quick 45-minute flight over to Curacao. As my aircraft glided in for a landing, I watched from my small window as the island quickly approached. Gigantic beach resorts enclosed by long palms lined the shoreline, small houses dotted the interior landscape, and colorful city buildings surrounded a large protected inland bay. But what caught my eye more than all these man-made objects was that the light blue water along the shores faded quickly to dark blue within hundreds of yards.
This could mean only one thing to a deep diving freak like myself: depth and plenty of it, just a snorkel from land. Along with depth comes new exploration, and I was here to see just what secrets Curacao might hide beyond the normal recreational limits of open water diving.
On any good recon trip, you first must contact some type of local resource for dive gas, tanks, dive boats, and local water knowledge. With a little pre-planning, the island tourism board had already hooked me up with a well-known local shop called Caribbean Sea Sports, owned by Tom Zeck.
Caribbean Sea Sports is conveniently located on the beach just outside the Marriott beach resort. This full dive training facility has all the equipment, staff, and dive vessels for any recreational dive group. But as in most recreational dive facilities, they are always cautious when some dive cowboy shows up using different gear, asking to conduct longer, deeper dives than normal, as they should be for the sake of safety.
(click on images to enlarge)
Above: Divemaster Brigitte Achterberg hovers above a carpet of hard corals. Curacao is known for its immense number of corals.
Below: Curacao has two large underwater junkyards containing trucks, cars, pipes, barges, metal boxes, etc., that were dumped in the 1950s. This old Ford truck clings to the slope of the wall at a depth of 155 feet.
Since this was just a recon trip, I did not bring along my rebreather but fell back on the trusty, easy-to-pack, lightweight, armadillo side-mount harness. And yes, God forbid, I might admit to diving that ancient dive gas called – AIR.
After introducing myself and going through the standard liability sign-your-life-away legal forms, the professional staff showed me around the shop and fill station. The shop leaves a stack of aluminum 80 cylinders conveniently on the deck for divers to grab for unlimited shore dives. Commandeering two cylinders, I set up my side-mount harness. And with a newfound dive buddy/model, Shani Shmueli, was off with a camera for a see-what’s-there dive checkout.
Just as I had suspected, within a five-minute swim from shore, the coral-covered bottom dropped quickly to about 70 feet, then the wall appeared. Not a vertical wall here, but more of a steeply sloping wall covered with large coral heads and colorful fish. Stopping at 200 feet, the wall continued to drop into the darkness, — a perfect location for beginner OC trimix and CCR diver instruction.
On the following morning, I boarded the dive facility's PRO 42 dive boat, conveniently named Explorador, to embark on a dive to explore some local wrecks. The first location was the wreck of the 200-foot Superior Producer. The Superior Producer sank by accident in 110 feet of water in 1977 immediately after leaving the harbor. Carrying a mixed cargo of liquor, clothing, and luggage, local divers quickly salvaged as much of her cargo as possible. The shipwreck is in surprisingly good condition, and contains a large variety of soft corals, sponges, and reef fishes.
Above and Below: Divers explore the 200-foot Superior Producer sank in 110ft.
One of the more important people to get to know and suck up to for recon trips is the local dive vessel captain, especially if they have been diving locally for many years. I struck gold when I met Captain Raul Granja who, after getting to know me better, spoke about some wrecks that others do not visit because of the deeper depths. Luck would have it that Raul was taking an open water trip to the reef just beside one of these deeper wrecks in the afternoon, and there was space on the boat for one more diver.
The shallow reef that the open water divers were enjoying was pristine, filled with large corals and thousands of small fish. Beyond the shallow limits of the recreational reef lay a wonderland of man-made objects strewn around like matchbox toys on a mountainside. An underwater junkyard of trucks, cars, boats, metal hoppers, beams, and poles covered with years of marine growth and inhabited by millions of tiny reef critters. Let the new divers keep the reef — take me to the junkyard any day! And, just like the captain had said, at the deeper sections of the junk pile there was a nice 70-foot long tugboat lying on her port side in about 180 feet of water. Encrusted with long strands of soft coral, this small tug produced some excellent photo opportunities, as did many of the old trucks and objects in the junkyard.
When in Rome, take Caesar and some of his staff out drinking, if possible, in the evenings. If you’re lucky, you might pry some more dive secrets from their pockets, and a better ranking on their vessel. The evening beers paid off as I gained a knowledge of another deep junk pile containing a large barge, and the possibly fabled twin tugs on a deep ledge.
Above: At the deepest section of junkyard number one, this 80-foot tugboat lies covered with long strands of corals and sponges. The small tug makes an excellent wreck photo opportunity.
Below: Junkyard number two contains this giant truck, metal boxes, a 100-foot long barge, pipes, and a plethora of miscellaneous unrecognizable metal items. This is truly a unique dive, an excellent location for macro and wide-angle photography.
Amazingly, it just so happened the next morning that the dive vessel had some destination changes, and they just so happened to be going to some shallow reefs in the two areas we had spoken about over several cocktails the night before.
I was joined by Divemaster Brigitte Achterberg who had graciously offered to be a dive model for my camera. Just as the day before, the recreational divers enjoyed their dives amongst the shallow reef corals. Brigitte and I, however, ventured in the opposite direction…down the walls and into a large valley of oil pipes, metal boxes, unknown type truck frames, metal platforms, and a large 100-foot long barge sitting upright at 160 feet on the sloping sea floor.
After a hundred shots or so in the junkyard, Brigitte led me over the next coral finger and pointed down the sloping wall. There in the distance, I could make out the shapes of two tugboats sitting on a small sand ledge. Descending to 200 feet, I gathered as much natural sunlight as possible, bumped up the ASA on my Nikon, and fired away. In a short period of time, I had managed to shoot about fifty images from all different angles.
Above and Below: Almost ready to slip off the wall and into much deeper water, these twin tugboats perch on a small sand shelf at 190 feet.
Ending the shoot, I found myself hovering out over the wall in front of the tugs. Looking down, the deep blue depths tempted me to explore, but my dive computer and pressure gauge quickly encouraged me to terminate the dive and head up for decompression.
Back in the shallows, I found myself a soft, white sand patch to relax in as my thirty minutes of remaining decompression ticked away. During my slumbers, I was stared at by many recreational divers who wondered what the hell I was doing sleeping on the ocean floor.
My stay in Curacao was short, but provided enough time to complete a general overview of the excellent recreational wreck and reef diving. More important is the fact that ships have been visiting Curacao for over 400 years, and it seems that everything below 150 feet is virgin territory. Now all I need to do is return with my rebreather, find a little helium and oxygen, and the walls are mine to claim.